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Use these discussion questions before, during, or after your video-based lesson on Rivers and Valleys.

If you haven't read our Tips for using video in the classroom, we suggest you take a look there first, then come back here to choose materials to construct your lesson.

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Rivers and Valleys


Making mountains
Rolling on rivers
Moving mountains
Burgh & burbs
Cleaning up

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bullet Place name archaeology

Viewing suggestion: View a few of the neighborhood profiles from North Side Pittsburgh History Series program (see North Side Program Log) and ask students to make a note of some of the place names mentioned (neighborhoods, street names, building names, etc.)

  • How did some of the places in the North Side get their names?

Using maps of the area, make a list of some of the place names in your neighborhood or region: Street names, bridges, towns, streams, hills, and other land features.

Hypothesize how each of these places may have gotten their names:

  • Who might have named these places? Why? When?

Research the names of these places, then discuss:

  • Which places were named after people? [Pittsburgh, Frick Park, Schenley Park, Stanwix St., Carnegie, Grant St.] Who were these people? Why were these places named after them? Who gave the places these names? Was it a tribute or just because they got there first? What is the story behind their settling the area? Why did they settle here?

  • What places are named after natural features? [Ridge Ave., Water St., Spring Hill, Panther Hollow, the Strip, Oakland, Squirrel Hill] Which of those names now refer to things that aren't there any more? Why have they disappeared?

  • What names represent ideas or ideals [Homestead, Homewood, Spring Garden, Mount Lebanon]

  • What names offer clues of past activities? [Observatory Hill, Millvale, Ambridge] Are those activities still practiced at these places? If not, what happens at these locations now?

Compare these modern place names with those on historic maps (historic maps of Pittsburgh can be downloaded from the Western Pennsylvania History Discussion page). What places have changed names? Why might they have changed?

Extension: Look up the geographical names at the USGS' Geographic Names Information System (http://mapping.usgs.gov/www/gnis/) for access to maps, aerial photos, census maps, and information from the EPA's Surf your Watershed site!


bullet Plan a new regional mass transportation system

Viewing suggestion: View segments on the riverboat crews, trolleys, inclines, trains, old highways, and airports as preparation for this discussion. See Rivers and Valleys Related Video.

What are some of Pittsburgh's unique challenges for mass transportation? [Lack of a clear grid system; hills and rivers that funnel into tunnels and bridges...] What transit challenges does it share with all cities? [Unwillingness to carpool or ride mass-transit, pollution, fossil fuel use...]

What are some of Pittsburgh's unique opportunities for mass transportation? [Waterways that lead to Downtown; miles of unused railroad track and right-of-way...]

Brainstorm ways the region could use its waterways and other assets to supplement the existing mass transit system and encourage more ridership (Remember the trolley parks!).

Narrow the list to three or four possibilities and discuss how feasible each idea is by listing its pros and cons.

Visit the Port Authority's web site for the latest information about the region's transit plans.


bullet Floods and droughts

The United State Geological Survey keeps data from all its river gauges since they've gone into effect -- most in the 1930s. Using the historical streamflow data for river gauges in Pittsburgh, it is possible to see a portrait of some of the city's major river events!

Discuss these streamflow graphs from the USGS server:

Over the years when do the highest and lowest water levels usually occur during the year? Over a decade, how often does the streamflow go extremely high?

How can you tell when the floods occur? How long does it take the flood to develop? How long does it last? How long does it take the flood to subside and flow return to normal?

Why does the USGS measure streamflow rather than river levels? What is the relationship between flow and levels? You can find information about historic water levels at the Pittsburgh PA Hydrologic Services Area.

  • What does a flood look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What does a drought look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What is the average waterflow/month for one decade? Highest month? Lowest month?
  • What difference did the flood control projects make between the 1936 and 1972 floods?

Follow up by having students do their own searches and plot graphs of riverflow in the activity Ebb and flow: Find historical river data for your area at the USGS.

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